Haboobs bring increased risk of Valley Fever to Arizona

Posted at 6:56 PM, Jun 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-13 21:56:25-04

As Arizona prepares for monsoon season, doctors say residents and visitors should learn the signs of valley fever.

"I felt like a truck hit me," said Maria Wolf who got valley fever a year ago.

Valley fever is caused by a fungus called Coccidioides, which grows just under the surface in the desert.

People get sick when they inhale the airborne fungus spores. Wolf's doctor says there's no way to absolutely prevent the disease, but people with suppressed immune systems should take precautions.

"Pay attention and avoid being outside in the dust storm, and avoid those activities really kicking up plumes of dust," Dr. Craig Rundbaken said.

Last year, Arizona had more than 6,000 reported valley fever cases. Some people die from the illness, but most people have little to no symptoms. A simple skin test can show if you've had prior exposure and if you have built up immunity. However, it is harder to diagnose active valley fever. Symptoms include fatigue, coughing, skin rash, night sweats, and chest pain. Treatment includes taking anti-fungal drugs. 

Dust storms can contain the spores that cause valley fever and could have other bacteria and fungus to make you sick. Researchers at Arizona State University will further investigate this monsoon season, after finding other nasty stuff in past testing of the dust.

"Human-created particles like road dust that can be brake wear, tire wear, or the particles coming from the exhaust of the cars," said ASU chemistry professor Pierre Herckes.